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Religion Ethics Newsweekly

Prisons for Profit; Women Catholic Priests News/Business. (2013) Louisiana outsources prison operation to sheriffs; Jennifer O'Malley, Roman Catholic Women Priests. New. (CC) (Stereo)

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  PBS    Religion Ethics Newsweekly    Prisons for Profit; Women Catholic Priests  News/Business.   
   (2013) Louisiana outsources prison operation to sheriffs;...  

    January 13, 2013
    10:00 - 10:30am PST  

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coming up, a lucky severson report on using private jails and even rodeos to help pay for louisiana's enormous prison population, created in part by the state's mandatory sentences of life without parole.
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and, saul gonzales on catholic women defying church law with unauthorized ordinations as priests, even if it means excommunication. welcome, i'm bob abernethy. it's good to have you with us. religious leaders were among those who met with vice president joe biden this week in a series of white house meetings on gun control. according to one clergy member present at the meeting, they spoke of the moral requirement to reduce gun violence.
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in december, a week after the elementary school shooting in connecticut, a large interfaith group called on lawmakers to improve mental health services and strengthen gun laws. >> our worship of guns is a form of idolatry, the random distribution of guns, an offense against god and the only appropriate response is sustained moral outrage. jewish groups were divided over president obama's pick of former republican senator chuck hagel for secretary of defense. in the past, hagel was heavily criticized for comments he made about a "jewish lobby" in washington and for positions he took on iran. several jewish groups that had previously expressed reservations about hagel said they would not oppose him. but, the republican jewish coalition called his selection a "slap in the face" for anyone concerned about israel.
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president obama meanwhile nominated counter terrorism advisor john brennan to lead the cia. some ethicists have questioned brennan's support for the country's controversial drone program, which brennan defended in a speech at the woodrow wilson center last may. >> targeted strikes conform to the principal of humanity, which requires us to use weapons that will not inflict unnecessary suffering. for all these reasons, i suggest to you that these targeted strikes against al qaeda terrorists are indeed ethical and just. also this week, obama chose his chief of staff jack lew, an orthodox jew, to head the treasury department. plans are being completed for president obama's second inaugural, but controversy has already prompted a change. atlanta evangelical pastor louie giglio was selected to give the
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benediction, but he bowed out after some activist groups criticized a sermon he gave in the 1990s against homosexuality. giglio said he didn't want the uproar to become a distraction. myrlie evers-williams, widow of slain civil rights leader medgar evers, will deliver the invocation. as he did four years ago, president obama will use abraham lincoln's bible when he takes the oath of office. and this time, he will also use a bible of reverend martin luther king, jr. 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of king's march on washington and the 150th anniversary of the emancipation proclamation. washington's national cathedral announced this week that it will begin performing same-sex marriages, effective immediately. the cathedral's dean gary hall admitted that gay marriage is a point of disagreement, but called the decision an effort to
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fully include gays and lesbians in the life of the church. last year, the episcopal church approved a blessing for same-sex marriages. it remains up to individual bishops to decide how, and if, the blessing is used in their dioceses. we have a lucky severson story today on the enormous prison population in louisiana, 40,0 opleehind bars, and that state's unusual attempts to pay the costs -- private for-profit jails and even rodeos. but there's no change in one of the major causes of the problem, mandatory sentences of life without parole. >> in the united states there are more than 2 million citizens locked up behind razor wire and prison bars. >> we lock up our citizens at far greater rates than any other industrialized nation or any other kind of nation in the world. >> mark mauer is the executive director of the sentencing
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prect. he says that when it comes to lock ups, louisiana is easily the toughest state in the nation. >> louisiana has been at the top of the pack and just incarcerating people at rates that are just unimaginable any place else in the world. >> richard crane is the former chief counsel to the louisiana corrections department. he says there was a push nationwide in the early 1980s to crack down on crime, and louisiana took it seriously. >> you could always get votes by increasing sentences, and louisiana more than any other state just went wild with that. >> today, there are about 40,000 people behind bars in louisiana. that's one out of 86 adults. the prison population doubled in the last two decades, and the state prison system simply couldn't keep up. so in the early 1990s the state gave local sheriffs an incentive to build their own prisons. cindy chang first reported about prisoners-for-profit for "the
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new orleans times picayune" newspaper. >> in louisiana, you've got all these prison entrepreneurs who are mostly local sheriffs who have built these prisons, and the prisons function just like hotels, that they get a payment per person per day, and if they don't keep the beds full they're going to lose money. >> the louisiana secretary of corrections jimmy le blanc -- >> we didn't have the means. we didn't have the funding to accommodate building prisons. we didn't have the money so that partnership, that cooperative endeavor of agreement together was a means to build additional prisons and have the beds that we needed to house prisoners. >> it works this way. county or parish sheriffs get about $25 a day for inmates that would have otherwise ended up in state prisons. some of that money goes to house and feed the prisoners. what's left over belongs to the underfunded sheriffs'
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departments to use for much needed equipment and for manpower. >> at one point that was a real good thing, because they didn't have bulletproof vests. they had bad or old or used equipment. >> well, yes, you ow, but is that the way to finance those things, you know by increasing sentences for the sole purpose of filling up local jails. is it ethical to incarcerate people for the sole purpose of making money? >> burl cain, warden of one of the country's biggest prisons, angola, says he has reservations about profiting from incarcerations. >> yes, the profit motive bothers me when the profit motive is the motive to not provide the necessary essentials for the inmate. you feed them with a thimble, is a term i use. you try to cut them to 1,800 calories a day, and so those things bother me, and they do that in the private sector more than the public, because they measure every little thing they give you. they're cutting costs, they're cutting dollars, and when they
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cut your quality of life by doing that, that's wrong. >> the approximately $25 payment the sheriffs receive per inmate per day is less that a third of the average daily prison costs nationally, so there is little or no money left over for rehab or education programs. >> the term that that often used is warehousing, that these people are just being warehoused during their sentence. >> going back to philadelphia in the late 18th century, the quakers and other religious reformers invented the penitentiary system from the word "penitence," and their idea was you could take sinners, lock them in a prison cell, give them a bible or have someone read the bible to them; then they would repent for their sins. so it was well-intended, it didn't work out very well in practice. what's sort of striking is that model of incarceration has not changed that much 200 years later. >> one reason for louisiana's huge prison population is that the state leads the country in the percentage of inmates
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sentenced to life without parole. life without parole for a young inmate who lives to be 72 years old can cost taxpayers more than $1 million. >> more than one-in-ten people in prison in louisiana are serving life without parole. the only way you can get out is getting a pardon from the governor, and that is something that rarely happens. >> here at angola, 97% of the over 5,000 inmates sentenced here will die here, no matter how young when they arrived. >> they should not necessarily be released, but they should have a hearing. they should be reviewed, and our situation and in a lot of states there's no hearing. >> louisiana did recently close down a prison and transferred the 900 inmates, who were in for lesser crimes, to angola. it turned out to be a positive move, because the warden can use the lifers as mentors for the
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short timers in the prison's re-entry program. john sheehan has served 26 years of his life-without-parole sentence for second-degree murder. he's the lead mentor for automotive students. heyward jones, also in for life without parole for second-degree murder, is a social mentor. >> they can look at us different than other men that come in. you can have a church group that comes in and tells them one thing, but you have somebody like heyward here and myself that have a life sentence that's actually living here all the time, and tell them if they don't do the right thing they can wind up here. our message across a lot realer to them than what messages of other people do. >> but the re-entry program the warden is so proud of is not in the budget. the funding comes from the annual prison rodeo. the louisiana corrections department relies on churches to provide many re-entry programs.
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still louisiana spends almost $700 million a year for corrections, money that could go toward social programs in a state that has one of the some of the worst poverty and schools in the country. >> i'll give you a good example. our prison intake is 15,000 a year. our high school drop out is 15,000 a year. i mean, that tells you the story of what is happening to us. they're coming out of these schools and coming to prison. >> and you shouldn't pay more for corrections than you do for education, but you are, and you're keeping the wrong people in prison because you're keeping everybody. >> i think it's a very disturbing development that the world's wealthiest society, the united states, a society that prides itse on its democratic traditions, is also the world's leading imprisoner. there's something fundamentally wrong, i think, with that picture. >> the picture is slowly changing, in part because states can no longer afford to imprison so many people. legislatures are gradually reducing sentences for nonviolent crimes and turning
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more to rehabilitation programs. that includes louisiana to a lesser degree, partly because of push back from local sheriffs, whose budgets rely on keeping their jails full. in other news, in the aftermath of hurricane sandy, some religious groups are pushing congress to add houses of worship to the list of organizations that can receive grants from the federal emergency management agency. currently, houses of worship are not eligible for rebuilding grants from fema, although some religiously affiliated non-profits such as hospitals or homeless shelters are. some church state watchdog groups have argued against adding synagogues, churches or
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mosques to the list, saying that would be direct government funding of religion. at the vatican, in his annual address to the vatican diplomatic corps, pope benedict xvi had strong words on syria and the international economy. the pope called for more humanitarian aid to syria and warned that there will be no winners in the current situation, only "a field of ruins." the pope blamed the worldwide economic crisis on a desire for profit and spoke of the growing divide between the few who grow richer and the many who grow poorer. meanwhile, in syria, the humanitarian situation continues to worsen. the world food program said it is unable to reach one million syrians in need of food. the group said it's had to withdraw its staff from certain cities because of the violence.
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in los angeles, a judge has ordered the catholic archdiocese to release nearly 30,000 internal documents on the clergy sex abuse crisis, without removing any names. previously, another judge had ruled the archdiocese could redact the names but that decision has now been overturned. the church says it will comply, although no date has been set for the documents release. t papers include memos, medical records and correspondence with the vatican. we have a special report today from california about another church controversy, catholic women who feel called to be priests, even though their unauthorized ordinations violate church law and cost them excommunication. saul gonzales reports from los angeles. >> at a los angeles ceremony, a
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group of catholic women is about to commit an act of religious faith, but because they are women it's an act the vatican has condemned as a grave crime against the roman catholic church and what the church sees as its divine laws. >> bishop olivia and members of the community, i am honored to testify on behalf of jennifer's readiness to be ordained to the priesthood. >> in a faith that prohibits females from becoming priests, these women are rebels, gathering here this afternoon to orin ts won, jennife o'malley, as a catholic priest. >> do you love the catholic church? >> i do. it's who i am, so i can't leave. you know, i've gone to other churches and they're beautiful, but i'm catholic, and i can't separate myself from that. >> o'malley is a member of a group called roman catholic women priests. it was started in 2002 when
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seven women, in an act of defiance against the vatican, were ordained as priests by a male bishop in europe. ever since, the group's been fighting for full acceptance of women into the priesthood. in the last decade, roman catholic women priests has ordained more than 100 women in ceremonies similar to this one for jennifer o'malley. >> we choose you our sister jennifer for the order of priesthood. thanks be to god. >> the ordinations are held in non-catholic churches and definitely without the sanction or recognition of the catholic church. in fact, under vatican policy o'malley's ordination, like the women who have done this before her, brings automatic excommunication. that means she's barred from receiving the church's sacraments or participating in the liturgy, unless she repents. >> you know, in a sense it's hurtful, and the fact that i'm being excommunicated by people who don't even know me.
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but on the other hand, again, it is a consequence of doing what god has called me to do. >> and your response to those who think at worst this is heresy, out and out, and at best some sort of a stunt, really. what do you say to them? >> you know, it's a call from god, and i believe it to be a true call, so those other things have to be put aside. and if that means breaking a law within the church, i know within myself, within my intellect and emotionally, that it is the right thing to do. >> catholic leaders, of course, see the ordination of women very differently. >> the catholic church is not ready for the ordination of women right now. >> father thomas rausch is a priest and professor of catholic theology at l.a.'s loyola marymount university. >> as far as the church is concerned, these are not valid ordinations. ordination is an act of the whole church, and this is not an act of the whole church. in a sense, this is an act
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against the communion of the whole church. it is very difficult to call yourself a roman catholic if you are not living in communion with the roman catholic church, and communion means you are recognized by the bishop and you have this network of relationships, which is it's the kind of glue that holds the catholic church together. >> the theological justification most often cited for barring women from the catholic priesthood goes back to jesus' choice of men only to be his disciples. that was followed by centuries of male-dominated customs developed within the church. >> i think that, you know, the culture was patriarchal. it was very much male-centered. males were educated. they took roles of leadership. they played leading roles in the churches. so i think those cultural reasons really have to be taken into account in order to understand the exclusion of women from ordained ministry in the life of the church. >> although there was talk about
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the possible ordination of women in the wake of vatican ii 50 years ago, in recent decades the church has taken a tougher stand against the idea of women in the priesthood. in 2008, the vatican formally declared its policy of excommunication of women who completed ordination. that was followed two years later by the listing of the ordination of women as a "grave crime" against catholic sacramental law. the church says it's taken these steps to maintain theological purity and centuries of catholic tradition and unity. many who favor the ordination of women, though, say sexism and chauvinism are the real reasons women are barred from the catholic priesthood. >> when i chose to get ordained, it was because i feel that intelligent, articulate women must act to try to change the church. >> jane via is a catholic woman priest in san diego. >> i realized there are no clergymen who are going to stand
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up to this authitarian, totalitarian, patriarchal, sexist system, because they have too much invested. >> via is one the most prominent figures in the women catholic priests movement, partly that's because of her unusual background. along with having a phd in theology, via was also an assistant district attorney in san diego for over 25 years. that courtroom experience, she says, has helped her in her present conflict with the leaders of the catholic church. via says the evidence she's gathered shows women had a prominent role in the early church. >> there no are no scriptural barriers to the ordination of women, and the first 300-400 years of the early church i believe the evidence shows clearly included the ordination of women as deacons, the ordination of women as priests, and the ordination of women as bishops. >> let us pray.
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>> via leads a congregation in with masses held in a borrowed lutheran church. >> although worship services here aren't recognized by the local catholic archdiocese, via carries out all of the typical duties of a male priest. the people who attend mass here say that despite this congregation's outsider status within the catholic church, they're secure in their own religious identities. >> how do you identify yourself? what's your faith? >> roman catholic. >> what would you say to your fellow catholics watching this who look at this and see a woman as priest and say that just isn't real, and the mass you've gone to has no legitimacy. >> for me it is real. it's as real as a male priest standing there. what's the difference? just because one is a woman and one is a man? i don't think god distinguishes.
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>> but via acknowledges that her battle with the catholic church has cost her, from broken friendships to the pain of excommunication. >> i remember being really rieved about not being able to be buried in a catholic cemetery. that was sort of the ultimate exclusion. you can't take the sacraments. i knew i would be excommunicated so i knew i could not accept the sacraments in a canonical catholic church anymore, unless i was unknown to the population there, which is hard for me to be in san diego. >> what do you say to those who would say join another community of faith, join another faith, become something else, but don't stay in the catholic church with your views. you would say what? >> for me to just turn my back on this institution and say,
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"you're all a bunch of worthless idiots, and i'm not participating anymore. i'm going to do my own thing. i'm going to go be episcopalian and i can be a priest there" is completely irresponsible. this is my community. if everyone who is progressive-minded, progressive thinking, and willing to stand up to the vatican leaves the church, the church will never change. >> and for this we always thank and praise you. >> we join with the saints of all times and places as they sing forever to your glory. >> yet despite the hardening position of the church against their movement and its ordinations, the women catholic priests say they aren't retreating. they say they believe that although they might not see it in their own lifetimes, women will one day be allowed to become roman catholic priests and with the support and blessings of the vatican.
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for "religion and ethics newsweekly," i'm saul gonzalez in los angeles. finally, some orthodox christians celebrated epiphany this week, a day on which they commemorate the baptism of jesus. as is traditional, in istanbul, greek orthodox christians jumped into the bosphorus to retrieve a cross, other orthodox christians, including the russian and coptic churches, will celebrate epiphany on january 19th. that's our program for now. i'm bob abernethy. you can follow us on twitter and facebook and watch us anytime on the pbs app for iphones and ipads. there's always much more on our web site as well. you can comment on all of our stories and share them. audio and video podcasts are also available. join us at pbs.org.
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as we leave you, more scenes of epiphany and orthodox christmas. major funding is provided by --
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